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Jordan Spieth leads Genesis Open in first round that many golfers never started

Jordan Spieth leads Genesis Open in first round that many golfers never started
Co-leader Jordan Spieth hits out of the rough on the 13th hole during the first round of the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

After a false start during a stormy Thursday morning that would appeal only to umbrella manufacturers and meteorology fanatics, the Genesis Open turned into a very crowded race to the top.

Only half of the field of 144 golfers got on the course once play began for real, and by that time the fast and challenging greens at Riviera Country Club had become welcome mats for golfers supremely skilled at firing balls at the pins.

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When play was finally suspended at 5:34 p.m., 72 golfers were on the course and none had completed a round, leaving the other 72 to start their opening rounds Friday morning.

The leaderboard is seriously impacted.

Jordan Spieth is tied for the top spot with Sung Kang at five under par. Patrick Rodgers and Jimmy Walker are a shot back at minus four, Tony Finau and J.T. Poston are one behind them and 10 players are at two under. Thirty-three players are under par.

“I’m glad we’re getting to play some,” said Spieth, who completed 12 holes. “It’s not fun if you don’t get to play at all.”

Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Fred Couples are among the players who have yet to tee off.

PGA Tour officials had hoped to get some of the first round in at the scheduled 6:40 a.m. start, and 10 groups did begin before play was suspended at 7:30 because of diminishing visibility and deteriorating conditions. No one finished more than two holes.

By midmorning, the blowing rain was so intense that visibility was reduced to almost nothing, wind threatened to delimb some of the hundreds of towering eucalyptus and sycamore trees, and ponds and streams materialized in areas where, under more moderate rainfall, water usually drains quickly.

Eventually, the tour decided to nullify those early scores and start fresh whenever conditions permitted.

“We don’t do that very often,” Mark Russell, vice president of rules and regulations, said of eliminating the early scores.

“But if I had it to do over again, we would have delayed the starting times.

“Once we did suspend play, the committee got together and just decided that we need to nullify those scores because the visual, it never got where you could see where your ball went.”

Play officially started seven hours late, at 1:40 p.m., after about two inches of rain had fallen and players were allowed to lift, clean and place their balls in the fairway. About four hours later, another shower blew through Pacific Palisades — soaking those who had ventured to the course believing the weather was clearing — but play continued.

Players on the course Thursday will return to complete their first rounds Friday morning, then the players scheduled to play Thursday afternoon will play until dark. Saturday morning, the first wave from Thursday will play its second round, with the cut coming around midday Saturday.

Phil Mickelson got one eventful hole in before the early-morning delay. He started on the 306-yard par-four 10th hole, drove his tee shot into a bunker short of the green, blasted out of the damp sand across the green into another bunker, hit his third shot over the green again into a third bunker, then holed that 10-yard shot for a not-very-routine par.

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When he started again in the afternoon, the morning action no longer relevant, he managed par again after his tee shot drifted well left of the green near an access road.

The last time scores were reset in a tour event was the third round of the 2013 Deutsche Bank Championship, now known as the Dell Technologies Championship, at the TPC Boston in Norton, Mass.

Rain has been an occasional, if unwelcome, guest in this tournament in the past. Two years ago, similar downpours over the first two days brought out an army of groundskeepers to drain bunkers that had been turned into ponds and clean up debris deposited by high winds. Ultimately, Dustin Johnson played 36 holes on Sunday and won the tournament.

In 2005, players were able to complete only two rounds through Sunday, and the tour was hopeful of completing a third round on Monday. Rain forced them to abandon that plan about 7:30 a.m. because of unplayable conditions, and co-leaders Adam Scott and Chad Campbell paddled out to the 18th tee for a one-hole playoff. Scott won and earned the full winner’s check, but it was an unofficial victory because they hadn’t managed to play 54 holes.

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